Rather than using chemicals, a Japanese farmer introduces ducks into rice paddies to fertilize and strengthen rice seedlings organically and protect them from pests and weeds.
Focus: Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development
Geographic Area of Impact: Asia, Cuba
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2001
In the next three decades, population growth will lead to a 70% increase in the demand for rice. The Green Revolution, which increased food yields through intensive monocropping and use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, is recognized today as unsustainable and environmentally unsound. Annual increases in the use of chemical fertilizers now outstrip the growth of rice yields, causing declining incomes and intensifying rural to urban migration. Alternative systems are necessary.
Innovation and Activities
In the mid 1970s, Takao Furuno, a high-spirited farmer who had been influenced by Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, was determined to turn his farm organic and spent 10 years doing back-breaking work of pulling out weeds by hand. In 1988, he came upon a traditional practice of using aigamo ducks to protect rice. The ducks eat insects, pests and snails and use their feet to dig up weeds, in the process oxygenating the water and strengthening the roots of rice plants. Furuno calls this method the “duck effect”.
Based on this method, Furuno has developed and disseminated a sustainable organic rice and duck farming system, which significantly increases yields, boosts farmers' incomes and decreases their workload while reducing environmental damage and increasing food security.
The duck-rice system is the result of continuous study of a natural symbiotic relationship after years of trial and error. One season, disease destroyed Furuno’s entire crop. For three years, dogs ate the ducks until he got the idea to install electric fences. Furuno has identified the optimal age at which ducklings should be released into rice fields, the number that should be introduced per tenth of hectare and the moment when ducks should be removed. Through experimentation, he discovered that the addition of certain fish (loaches) and a nitrogen-fixing weed (azolla) to the fields boosted both rice and duck growth.
In addition, Furuno has successfully marketed duck rice, which now sells at a 20-30% premium over conventionally grown rice in Japan and other countries. Today, his 3.2-hectare farm gives him an income of US$ 160,000 a year from producing rice, organic vegetables, eggs and ducklings. After demonstrating that small-scale organic farming can be highly productive, he is disseminating his ideas. He has authored best-selling books on his methods, such as The Power of Duck, as well as an aigamo duck cookbook. Through his writing, travel, lectures and cooperation with agricultural organizations and governments, his methods have spread to more than 75,000 farmers in Japan as well as South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, India, Cuba and Bangladesh.
The image of an Asian rice farmer is probably one of a taciturn man in a straw hat with whom it is difficult to converse about anything except his local area. In contrast, you will find Takao Furuno quite a surprise. His passion for the preservation and health of the small family farm is supported by a deep understanding of how modern society works. Furuno was awarded a PhD by Japan’s Kyushu University in September 2007 for "Comparative Research on Traditional Asian Paddy-Duck Farming and on Rice-Duck Farming.”
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